Peppernut cookies, or Pfeffernusse in German, are traditionally tiny spice cookies (the size of a nut) and are loaded with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. There’s molasses, too, for a richer flavor, and a splash of brandy for brightness. But, the ingredient that sets these little guys apart is pepper!
While my Pfeffernusse recipe is an authentic German cookie (like spritz cookies), the snowman shape is not. You can shape them as snowmen or regular round cookies as you like.
What Are the Special Ingredients in Peppernuts
- Pepper – Pepper is what makes these cookies most unique. Americans often shy away from the idea of pepper in sweet desserts, but once you try it, you’ll be surprised by the fun spicy kick it gives them. Freshly ground peppercorns work best, but in a pinch you can use any store-bought ground pepper.
- Holiday spices – Once you get past the pepper, the spices look like many other German Christmas cookies. They include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves.
- Molasses – Just like in ginger molasses cookies, molasses gives the cookies a rich, deep flavor. You can use light or dark molasses (dark will give a stronger flavor). However, I do not recommend using blackstrap molasses as it has a more bitter flavor.
- Brandy – The recipe doesn’t use a lot of brandy; rather, it has just enough to add a touch of brandy flavor. If you don’t want to purchase brandy special for this recipe, you can use rum or even replace the brandy with apple juice.
- Almonds – Finely chopped almonds give the cookies an extra little crunch. Fun fact: Peppernuts don’t have the word nuts in the them because of the nuts in the recipe; it’s because they are small, brown cookies that are traditionally shaped like nuts.
How to Make Peppernuts
Whisk together flour, ground pepper, other spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. And, in another small bowl, mix molasses and brandy. Set both bowls aside to use later.
In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Mix in egg yolk and chopped almonds.
Then, alternately add flour mixture and molasses/brandy to the butter/sugar mixture in thirds until everything is incorporated.
Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least eight hours or up to three days. This allows the flavors to meld and makes the dough easier to work with.
To make classic Pfeffernusse, roll the dough into balls and bake. Dust with powdered sugar or sanding sugar when they are done.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three weeks.
How to Decorate Peppernut Cookies
I have a thing for snowman cookies (I typically frost them with buttercream icing), but I decorate these a little differently.
Pull off three pieces of dough at a time (each about 3/4 inch, but one slightly smaller and one slightly larger). Roll each piece into a little ball.
Line the three balls up like a snowman – just touching each other – on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat for the rest of the dough, keeping snowmen one inch apart from each other on the cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 minutes. Then, remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with white sanding sugar.
Give each snowman black peppercorn eyes, a carrot sprinkle nose, and pink peppercorn buttons.
Return to the oven for another four to six minutes until the cookies are slightly darker on the edges.
Other Christmas Cookie Ideas
Peppernut Snowmen Cookies
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper you can smash peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, use a spice grinder, or in a pinch you can purchase ground pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- pinch cloves
- pinch nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses any kind except black strap
- 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy substitute apple juice if you don't want to use brandy
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds
- white sanding sugar for decorating
- 32 black peppercorns for decorating
- 16 carrot sprinkles for decorating
- 48 pink peppercorns for decorating
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, ground pink peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a small cup, mix molasses and brandy.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in egg yolk.
- Mix in chopped almonds.
- Alternately add flour mixture and molasses/brandy to the butter/sugar mixture in thirds until everything is added.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least eight hours or up to three days to allow the flavors to meld.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F.
- Remove dough from the refrigerator and pull off three tiny pieces (each about 3/4 inch, but one slightly smaller and one slightly larger). Roll each piece into a little ball.
- Line the three balls up like a snowman - just touching each other - on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
- Repeat for the rest of the dough, keeping snowmen one inch apart from each other on the cookie sheet.
- Bake for 8 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with white sanding sugar.
- Give each snowman black peppercorn eyes, a carrot sprinkle nose, and pink peppercorn buttons.
- Return to the oven for another four to six minutes until the cookies are slightly darker on the edges.
- Cool the cookies on a cooling rack.
- Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.